Photos: Las Vegas first responder who 'has seen it all' ends her 50-year career
AMR officials named a training room in honor of Linda "Matt" Netski and decorated the walls with phrases she famously says, including "park and push"
By Ray Brewer
Las Vegas Sun
LAS VEGAS — Linda Netski was driving to work on a November morning in 1980 from her home in Boulder City when she noticed a plume of smoke in the air coming from the Las Vegas Strip.
As her car turned near Railroad Pass to head into the Las Vegas Valley, the smoke became clearer and Netski sensed a busy day was ahead of her.
That smoke turned out to be from the deadly fire at the MGM Grand, where 87 people died in what was the third-deadliest fire in modern U.S. history.
Netski, a first responder with the then-paramedic group Mercy Medical Services, was on the scene for hours rendering aid. It's one of the many calls she's been affiliated with in a nearly 50-year career that's coming to an end this month.
"I saw the smoke and immediately got the feeling that it was going to be a long day," said Netski, whom friends and colleagues simply call "Matt" in reference to her middle name.
Netski, 75, relocated to Las Vegas in 1975 from her native Iowa after reading a job posting in a trade publication for a nursing job here. The spot at Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center paid $5 per hour; her offer in Iowa was $2 hourly.
After a few months, she transitioned from working in hospital emergency rooms to arriving on the scene in an ambulance. She fell in love with being a first responder, everything from the rush of racing out to a call to the satisfaction of helping a resident in need.
It is more than a profession. It was her calling.
"A true (emergency medical services) professional is a junkie for the job," she said. "Every day is a new challenge. What will we do (in a time of crisis)? What can we do to make it right?"
Along the way, she's seen a little bit of everything — a few times over.
There was the time she worked the National Finals Rodeo, and a bull rider suffered a skull fracture. A photo of her helping to stabilize the competitor on the dirt at the Thomas & Mack Center is framed in her office at the company's Southwest Las Vegas headquarters. It also appeared in Sports Illustrated.
There was another time when the crew picked up an expecting mother who had gone into labor.
The baby wasn't willing to wait for them to arrive at the hospital, and Netski delivered the child at the ambulance entrance at University Medical Center. It was one of about 30 babies she has delivered through the years.
There have also been plenty of times where the outcome of the call was tragic, and Netski would be credited with her displays of sympathy with the victims' survivors, her colleagues said.
"Whether it's a call at Rancho Bel Air or a dumpster behind Jerry's Nugget, everyone deserves dignity and respect," she said.
Netski was eventually elevated to a job in administration for AMR Las Vegas — formerly Mercy Medical Services — and MedicWest. The group averages 500 daily calls and has a stable of about 600 first responders.
Netski is responsible for a little bit of everything, taking the lead on analyzing the data needed to run the operation, such as evaluating response times. She also works with rookie first responders, both in a classroom setting and as a mentor.
AMR officials named the training room in Netski's honor a few years ago when she celebrated her 45th anniversary with the company. Simply walk through the facility and her impact is everywhere, especially on the walls. Part of the decor is phrases she famously says, including "park and push."
"She's a wealth of experience," said Damon Schilling, the company's public affairs manager. "From the MGM fire to 1 October, Matt has seen it all and worked it all."
Netski wasn't directly involved in the response following the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip. Her value came after the fact when analyzing EMT response and using the incident as part of future training, Schilling said.
Many of the new EMT professionals often wonder what their future holds in the industry. Netski, drawing on her longevity and experience, gives them the answers, Schilling said.
Michael Johnson, the regional director for AMR Las Vegas, said Netski was one of the go-to people in the organization. "Nobody has seen it all, but if there were ever someone that came close, it would be Matt," he said.
Netski started in the industry when about 280,000 residents called the Las Vegas area home. There are now 2.8 million residents — and the hundreds of thousands weekly visitors — served by AMR's 180 ambulances in its fleet.
While much has changed with technological advances, at least one aspect of the job has remained the same: Helping others.
"You are working for the people of Clark County," Netski said. "You want to see the community at its best. It's your job to take care of citizens and visitors."
Netski's retirement plans include enjoying family time with her eight grandchildren and traveling abroad. She also has more to give the first responder community, hoping to help with the emergency response system in Clark County.
After all, when you've been doing something as long as she has, you simply can't walk away.
"When I called Social Security, they asked, 'Are you just now retiring?'" she said. "I said 'yes.' Four questions later, they asked if I was in a nursing home. I'm not ready for that."
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